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Wednesday, 19 October 2016


Normal Labour and Birth Conference 2016

This final day of the conference was filled with joy and sadness. Pretty much in that order as it started with keynote addresses on oxytocin and moved onto the deeper and darker side of maternity, coming to a head with Bashi Hazard's speech about human rights in childbirth. Keep reading to find out how that all went down!

Professor Kerstin Uvnas Moberg- 'The Oxytocin Factor'

This Professor knows oxytocin. And she wasn't shying away from putting it aaaall out there, good and bad. 

I'll start with a quote from her which brings everything she said in wonderful detail into a single point. 

"Normality in birth is usually best because everything was thought of when these systems were created." - Professor Kerstin Uvnas Moberg

Professor Kerstin Uvnas Moberg keeping it real.

So then what does she have to say? Here are the main points (I tried to condense for you)

1. Oxytocin is more than a hormone, it is a complex system. 

It has the same effect on all mammals, you can even give it to sandworms and they will lay eggs... the relevance of this information evaded me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it none-the-less and hope you do too. 

2. It's a long point but good- it was new to me and may be to you too so hang in there. I believe in you. 

There are two nerves that interact with the uterus (the new exciting thing is the nerves- hopefully the italics helped you with that). One is tapped into fight-or-flight system, the other waves the flag for rest-and-digest. (In labour, women have faster labours with less pain when they are channelling the rest and digest system). Synthetic oxytocin basically switches of the rest-and-digest nerve, and leaves the ugly cousin fight-or-flight nerve in control of the uterus. This gets messy because it means a reduced blood flow to the uterus and placenta- which is bad. It also causes unnaturally long contractions which the Professor speculates may then impact the baby because of the physical force- also bad. 

3. Epidurals may also impact these nerves, as the anaesthetic is given very close to where they are. Also the probability of needing synthetic oxytocin increases with an epidural. She really makes her point by adding that women describe epidurals as having reduced pain, however, do not describe their births as being more pleasant than physiological birth. 

I told you she wasn't shying away from telling it how it is. She uses the research she undertaken to illustrate her points. I think some of those points got a little bit pointy for some of the audience, but 'truth will out' right? She then goes on to describe unnecessary intervention as:

"Cutting off the roots of a positive, self supportive system" - Professor Kerstin Uvnas Moberg.

She said a lot more but that was the final cut. 

I probably needed a brain break at that point but onwards and upwards we went to Professor Maralyn Fourer's 'How birth space can influence normal birth". 

This talk was interesting, and began with the speculation that moving women from birthing at home to in the hospital was one on the most "amazing uncontrolled experiments ever". She then went on to examine how neuroscience is connected to architecture. Who would have thought.  

Professor Maralyn Fourer- setting the scene before talking about setting the scene. 

Quick facts:

1. Worldwide all hospital birth rooms have the same four features: Bed, Monitors, Neonatal Rhesus Bed and Bright lights. Pretty sexy. The bed is the biggest and most central feature of the room. 

2. Optimal birth space influences the brain to produce optimal oxytocin levels, increasing the probability of normal birth. This is because the fear of something going wrong increases adrenaline, decreases oxytocin and therefore it makes the chances of something actually going wrong much higher. 

3. There are some really cool birth rooms- my favourite was one with a projection of nature scenes onto the wall. Just showing this on the screen for 10 seconds was calming as a member of the audience, I can only imagine how effective it would be in a birth space. Excitedly (but under her breath) the midwife next to me commented that there are lots of white walls in hospitals. 

Dr Rachel Reed from Midwife Thinking is a passionate advocator for women in the arena of traumatic childbirth. She presented 'Traumatic childbirth: Women's descriptions of care provider actions and interactions'. 

I already loved her blog. Now I love her. #notweirdiswear

So what did she have to say?

1. Care providers are prioritising their own agenda over the birthing women they are serving. 

2. Rachel ran a survey, and of all birth trauma described by women 2/3 described care provider interactions as the traumatising event of birth (1/3 described physical trauma).

3. Women are left feeling violated, disregarded, coerced, judged, lied to, many reported screaming 'no' to their care provider, some said they felt as though they "were treated like a piece of meat". It's so so bad. 

4. Institutions are risk averse, with many unnecessary procedures being forced on women in the name of risk. However, in Australia, the leading cause of maternal death is suicide. That's a risk. 

5. Rachel noted that there are mandated workshops for healthcare workers in many areas, such as personal protective equipment and she suggests that mandated workshops on promoting wellbeing may be part of a solution to this insidious issue. 

It wasn't a feel good presentation. It was a get off your butt and do something presentation. If you have unresolved feelings about your birth please seek help. Birth Talk is a foundation dedicated to helping women with birth trauma, or you may benefit from professional birth debriefing, visiting a counsellor or psychologist. You are not alone.

Then, as though they knew we needed a big dose of cuteness, these lovely geese and their little goslings decided to give us a show. 

Our new friends sensed the oxytocin in the air!

Bashi Hazard 'Human Rights in Childbirth' - The last session of the conference did not disappoint. 

What an amazing woman. Here are some highlights from her talk:

1. Midwives have been persecuted in the past and continue to be in their current work, particularly home birth midwives, for example Agnes Gereb. 

2. We are fostering a system where women are being forced to choose between their mental health and their physical health. 

3. In countries such as India and South America, governments are getting rid of traditional midwives (often the only accessible form of maternity care in rural areas) and pushing women into institutions where they are abused and disrespected. This is called obstetric violence and is pervasive. 

Slide displayed by Bashi Hazard during presentation. Bam. 

I could say so much more I had such an amazing time!! Feel free to ask any questions. 


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